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JFH Music Review

Brandon Heath, Christmas Is Here

Brandon Heath
Christmas Is Here

Artist Info: Discography
Genre(s): Christmas / Jazz / Bluegrass / Pop
Album length: 10 tracks: 34 minutes, 31 seconds
Street Date: October 15, 2013

It's beginning to be that time of year. Fall is in full swing, the leaves are changing colors, and major retailers are beginning to dedicate sections of their stores to copious amounts of holiday decorations. In addition to all of that great joy, a new batch of Christmas music is being offered to the world. Joining in this year with his own special take on the season is Brandon Heath with Christmas Is Here.

As with nearly all Christmas albums, they tend to be collections of holiday classics with a special twist. Christmas Is Here is no exception but it also mixes in some originals. A number of Heath's re-interpretations feature a great bluegrass sound, especially the two hymns "Go Tell It On The Mountain" and "In the Bleak Midwinter." Each song is orchestrated beautifully and resemble something that Alison Krauss and Union Station might produce - which is a true compliment. (Just a side note for church worship leaders, both renditions would be great interpretations for Sunday morning church services.)

Thankfully, Heath is a man of many sounds so his Christmas music can't be contained within one genre. He takes a stab at jazz on "The Christmas Song" and two original songs, "The Day After Thanksgiving" and "Mama Wouldn't Lie to Me." His original tracks are reminiscent of Harry Connick Jr. and really give the album a more playful feeling. Christmas music fans should welcome his original tracks warmly to their family favorites. In the same stream of traditionalism, his renditions of "Silent Night," "O Come All Ye Faithful/Angels We Have Heard On High," and "O Little Town of Bethlehem" are not dressed up in overdone music but are spot on with the nostalgic melodies many listeners know so well. The sound is respectful and honoring of the originals but really showcase great production.

An excellent stand out track is one of Heath's originals, "Just A Girl." Its theme is drawn from the perspective of the innkeeper in Bethlehem on the night that Jesus was born. Its simple sound and sweet melody matches the style of Christmas songs but with a very contemporary twist. Many who are familiar with songs like "Mary Did You Know?" or "Joseph's Lullaby" will most definitely find this as a great addition to the personal side of the Christmas story.

Some cynics may be thinking, "Christmas music only makes sense for a month or two, so it's nothing special to hear another Christmas album;" well my grumpy friends, it's time for you to get some holiday cheer. This album is more than just another collection of retold songs. It's something heartfelt, original, and creative. It truly is a great album to put in the rotation of your favorite holiday playlists, as it is sure to become a holiday classic. Merry Christmas, Mr. Heath.

- Review date: 10/13/13, written by Ryan Barbee of

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JFH Staff's Second Opinion

Brandon Heath's long-awaited Christmas album is a wonderfully eclectic mix of eras, sounds, and moods that reveals the singer's nascent versatility and offers a strong contribution to this year's holiday music. Christmas Is Here features six traditional hymns and carols, three originals, and that somewhere-in-between Nat King Cole standard, "The Christmas Song." The latter represents everything that's good about the album. Heath's version is near-perfect, thanks in no small part to the deft production of Ben Shive. Shive is particularly good at adding just the right touches of piano and strings, and for this song he must have been a kid in a candy shop. The big band flavor is fitting, the piano interlude is sumptuous, and the song just speaks Christmastime. This will be the definitive version for modern ears, and here's the best part: Heath resisted the urge to add that ubiquitous "Jingle Bells" tag that seems to have become the only way to finish a Christmas song these days. Bravo! The originals are excellent. There aren't many "statement songs" concerning Christmas, but "The Day After Thanksgiving" takes a worthy stand, scorning retail's proclivity for selling Christmas stuff when it's barely football weather. (Yes, the song is more than a bit ironic given the album's October release date.) "Mama Wouldn't Lie to Me" is similarly whimsical, highlighting the childhood wonder and mystery of the season. The standout is "Just a Girl," a moving song told from the perspective of the innkeeper, pondering his role in the story. The regret of hindsight practically haunts him, and his story is a lesson for all who refuse to answer the knocking hand of the King. "Away in a Manger" has a country feel that picks up where Blue Mountain left off, while the medley of "O Come All Ye Faithful" and "Angels We Have Heard on High" opens with horns in a traditional church setting, complete with choir. In "Go Tell it on the Mountain," Heath pairs verses, shuffles the order, and even adds a couple of lines to put a thoughtful spin on an American classic. The music is deceptively complex, with multiple layers of stringed instruments creating a warm and easy complement to Heath's voice. "In the Bleak Midwinter" is similar, adding a pair of fiddle and slide guitar instrumental breaks. For a song that's a favorite for so many, "Silent Night" doesn't work quite right here. A backing choir sounds effectively like a windy night, which would be appropriate for many other songs, but not this one. Christmas Is Here is a great Christmas album. Production values are strong, and the originals are all worthy additions to the season. Better still, there are often-overlooked verses and songs like "Just a Girl" that will lead listeners to stop and think in new ways about this most wonderful time of the year. - Mark Geil, 10/9/13


. Record Label: Reunion Records
. Album length: 10 tracks: 34 minutes, 31 seconds
. Street Date: October 15, 2013
. Buy It: AmazonMP3
. Buy It:

  1. The Day After Thanksgiving (2:45)
  2. The Christmas Song (3:52)
  3. O' Little Town of Bethlehem (3:03)
  4. Just A Girl (4:27)
  5. In The Bleak Midwinter (4:07)
  6. Mama Wouldn't Lie To Me (3:18)
  7. Away In A Manger (3:05)
  8. Go Tell It On The Mountain (3:40)
  9. Silent Night (2:25)
  10. O' Come All Ye Faithful / Angels We Have Heard On High (3:56)


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